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Friday, January 1, 2010

The Scarlet Pimpernel

First book finished of the year: The Scarlet Pimpernel, by Baroness Orczy. Historical fiction, a genre that I feel like I haven't delved into in a while. I remembered watching the play, back in about 2003 or 2004, when the Stratford festival put it on, and it was really good, although apparently not hugely memorable - I had vague ideas of who the characters were and what happened plot-wise (although not much of the plot) - but as I read the book I realized that either the play was done differently from the book quite significantly, or I was mis-remembering things.

It was a bit odd to be reading it with the knowledge of who the Scarlet Pimpernel was, because the first half of the book was entirely from the point of view of people who didn't know who he was and were trying to figure it out. There were minor clues as to his identity, but I don't know whether I would have caught them or not if I hadn't already known. It's hard to say. In any case, it was nicely suspenseful and action-filled, although I found myself often wanting to slap Lady Blakeney for her naïveté and sheer 18th-century-woman-ness. I mean, she's supposed to be this clever woman, most intelligent and well-respected, and yet she's a complete frill half the time. It irks me, but I suppose that's just how she was written in the time (1903 or 5 depending on if you mean the play or book).

I think I would definitely read this again. It was good enough that I would enjoy the story a second time through, and I do have this terrible habit of skim-reading things as I read them the first time through, just to find out what happens next without truly reading each word and getting the full depth of the novel. I'm sure I would be able to find things I had missed or read too quickly to remember them properly if I read it a second time.

Final verdict: Read it, if you like historical fiction anyway, if you like French Rev-era history, or if you're just looking for a good read and don't particularly stick to genres.

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